Greenville County Schools meal pick-ups have grown more than 170% since start

Gabe Cavallaro
Greenville News

Greenville County Schools has been preparing more than 20,000 meals per day over the last week for students at pick-up sites across the district, an exponential increase from the start of the district's meal pick-up program in mid-March when schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On the first day of the program on March 16, the district served 1,210 meals. Over the past week the district has averaged more than 22,000 meals per day, according to data provided by the district.

“Literally it went from zero to 60 mph in seconds," said Tim Waller, director of media relations for the school district. “These numbers are incredible."

All children aged 18 and under and special needs adults 21 and younger are eligible to pick up the meals, which consist of breakfast and lunch. Greenville County Schools is running the program on weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. 

The district has nearly 100 meal pick-up sites across Greenville County, a number that has mostly grown, except for one site closure — Hillcrest High School — where a food service worker tested positive for coronavirus, Waller said.

“It’s gone very well," he said. “From what we hear, constantly, families are ecstatic, they’re absolutely ecstatic."

At the Sterling School in Greenville, parents intermittently pulled up at the campus on sunny Wednesday morning, where a food services employee met them curbside, pushing a cart with meals over to pass through rolled down windows. 

Employees were greeted by smiles from parents thankful for one less thing to worry about in this uncertain time.

Michelle Williams, an employee at the Sterling School in Greenville, pushes a cart with prepared meals over to Candace Shockley, who is picking up the food as part of Greenville County Schools' meal pick-up program during the coronavirus-related school closures on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

 “It helps kind of relieve that area for us," said Mary Merritt, a parent of two children at Stone Academy. 

Merritt said her kids don't normally qualify for reduced lunch and so she was hesitant to take advantage of the program at first out of consideration for families who she felt need the food more than her's, but with insecurity looming over her and her husband's jobs right now, they decided to accept the help.

Augusta Circle Elementary School parent Candace Shockley said she appreciates the program because it gives her kids something different to eat than what they have at home and helps her family save its other food.

And Alexander Elementary School parent Rochelle Williams said getting the food there relieves pressure on her to figure out meals for her two kids for the rest of the day. She said she is normally working during the program's 10 a.m. to noon pick-up window, so Wednesday was her first time getting food there.

Elaine Currin helps hand out packaged lunches and breakfast to children at Boulder Creek Apartments Thursday, March 18, 2020.

It's a unique situation for the district, Waller said, as they had a summer feeding program that they used as a guideline for this one, but it's not nearly to this scale. During the summer program, they typically serve 2,500 to 3,500 meals per day, not 20,000.

The cost of this program is still unclear. 

The district is getting federal reimbursement for the meals it's serving now, just as it normally does during the regular school year, except now all of the meals are being reimbursed at the USDA's free rate, Waller said. The district does not have an estimate at this time for the cost of the current meal pick-up program, as vendor invoices are still coming in and the district hasn't filed for its federal reimbursement yet, he said. 

Waller said the district plans to continue its coronavirus-related meal pick-up program indefinitely, until they have "guidance on what the future holds for schools."

More information on the program is available on the district's website here.

You can connect with reporter Gabe Cavallaro on Twitter @gabe_cavallaro or facebook.com/cavallarogabe or email him at gcavallaro@greenvillenews.com.